Radio station promotions: The good, the bad and the completely unexpected


From the Wheelie Bin of Fortune to Shoot the Celebrity in the Arse, Australian radio has never been short of creative stunts and promotional campaigns.

On a recent episode of the Pilots of the Airwaves podcast, legendary former 2SM Breakfast announcer Ian MacRae recalled the famous stunt in which he promised to put a ‘jumbo’ under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Expecting to see a 747 jet, thousands of onlookers gathered around the harbour that morning for a squiz.

The ‘jumbo’ turned out to be an elephant on a barge.

“The idea was first mentioned at a jocks’ meeting. It was up to me to pick it up from there and make it work,” says MacRae.

“We knew initially that people were going to be a little bit suspicious.”

To make it seem authentic, the brekky show put in a call to the Boeing factory in the US.

“We spoke to one of their designers,” says MacRae. “He was in on the joke, of course, and he said ‘Oh yeah. You probably COULD fly a 747 under the Harbour Bridge. You might just clip the Pinchgut Fort on the way up.”

A competition was held and six people were invited to ride on the jumbo, unaware it was of the animal variety.

“One lady had gone out and bought a new outfit for this big occasion,” MacRae remembers. “She was a bit upset about sitting on the back of an elephant.”

Sometimes the most compelling radio stunts come straight out of left field, as Annwen Burrows can attest.

During her days as an announcer at Dubbo’s Zoo FM, Annwen was strapped to the bonnet of a car and driven through a solid wall, that just happened to be on fire.

“I had no idea it was happening until on the day,” Annwen tells Radio Today. “My co-host set it up. He’s a delight.”

Globally, there have been some brilliant (and not so brilliant) radio promotions over recent decades, and they don’t always go according to plan. Here’s just a sample of radio promotions from around the world … the good, the bad … and the totally unexpected:


New Zealand: Life on the Ledge

It’s not unusual for radio station promotions to end up going rogue, but this one in particular takes the cake for the sheer pigheaded determination of its contestants.

Life on the Ledge was a New Zealand radio competition in the late 90s in which contestants had to live on a small wooden platform underneath a billboard in downtown Auckland.

The last person standing would take home $20,000 – which back then was well over half the average yearly salary.

10 New Zealanders put up their hands.

The contest was expected to last a few weeks, tops.

But six months later, some of the contestants were still there.

They were cold, they were bored and they’d been battered by the elements, yet still they hung on grimly, determined to claim the cashola.

By then, the media buzz had died down, public interest in the promotion was waning and boredom had set in.

One contestant described the collective mood as “a progressive decline towards insanity.”

Like the odd social experiment that it was, Life on the Ledge became a public spectacle, with busloads of people showing up on weekends, or people taking up vantage points in front of the billboard, drinking and watching just for the heck of it.

164 days in, an executive decision was made to bring things to a head. Those who remained were each presented with a giant cheque for $20,000.


UK: Absolute Radio Kevin

Imagine having an entire radio station created in your honour.

That’s exactly what Absolute Radio offered to one lucky listener earlier this year.

Kevin McIlmurray beat hundreds of other entries in a competition: His winning idea? To create a station dedicated to playing the best singles and songs from debut albums.

The 47 year old dad became a music producer, presenter and interviewer for Absolute Radio Kevin, which launched in February.

The competition was the brainchild of Absolute Radio Breakfast host Dave Berry, who said “To start a new year on my breakfast show exploring the creative genius of our listeners was a joy.”


South Africa: Cape Town’s Loudest Snorer

Over three weeks, a Cape Town radio station had listeners submit videos of snoring spouses and family members, some of which were on a par with a chainsaw in action.

The winner received a cash prize, a bed makeover and an assessment from a local sleep centre.


UK: The Coolest Seats in Town

In 2001, four people were left with severe frostbite when a radio competition stunt in Birmingham went horribly wrong.

The contestants were challenged to sit on blocks of dry ice to win tickets and backstage passes to a music festival.

Three ended up spending weeks in hospital, undergoing extensive skin grafts.

Which radio stunt or promotion – good, bad or ugly – stands out in your memory?

 *Life on the Ledge photo credits: NZ Herald

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28 Jun 2023 - 8:14 am

My fave was 3XY Broadcasts from the Islands. Listeners won trips to various Islands with us jocks where we did our shows from. They packed for a holiday etc, however we ended up broadcasting from Traffic Islands around Melbourne. We did set up the islands like tropical resorts with blow-up palm trees, sun lounges etc. It was hysterical.

28 Jun 2023 - 1:26 pm

These are amazing and the reason I love the radio industry, there and hundred of great examples suck as Novas Lick it for a Ticket or Chew for two, Novas Shredder Triple Ms house from Hell and the Fugitive. I would say sadly I haven’t heard anything ground breaking in the last 4 years. The industry from a metro point of view has become too safe. Programmers are afraid to offended and in the process have turned their stations into wallpaper. Radio is crying out for a station to relaunch like Nova did back in the 2000s. Offering something from left field that demands to be listened to. Until then the future of radio remains headed toward digital and online world.

Mick C
28 Jun 2023 - 5:10 pm

I remember Ian Macrae’ s jumbo stunt and yes i was one of those who went down to have a look.
And did the same when he ” towed” an ice berg under the coat hanger
Those were the days


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